Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera South freshman Kaelei Kajitani shows off her pitching form by throwing out the first pitch before the Stallions’ game against Madera. She pitches and plays first base for the junior varsity squad.
It’s not often we see females take up a male-dominated sport in the high school level and it’s not often that we see them flourish and succeed despite the adversity.
For Madera South’s Kaelei Reann Kajitani, breaking the social norms of the sport of baseball isn’t important to the first baseman and left-handed pitcher, nor is proving her doubters wrong, but getting wins for her Madera South junior varsity baseball team is something she is willing to fight for.
“I just focus on hitting my spots, getting strikes and putting the ball in play when I’m at the plate, that’s how we win” she said.
For Kajitani, baseball runs deep in the family’s history. As the granddaughter to the late Eddie Chapa, both the patriarch of the Chapa family and baseball in Madera for his work both as a coach and an advocate for the sport, Kajitani always had baseball around her.
Chapa always pushed Kajitani to pursue her goals, no matter the obstacle. He was extremely proud of her accomplishments. Although he passed away in October of 2018, Chapa’s memory hasn’t been lost on Kajitani or her family.
“He was extremely proud of her and couldn’t wait the watch her play baseball this season as a Stallion,” Roxanne Martinez, Kajitani’s mom said. “He would always tell people he never saw a girl play baseball and if she loves the game for her to just keep playing.”
Kajitani had her try at softball early on, but that didn’t stick. A year later, she tried her hand at baseball in the Madera American Little League and eventually stayed for five years and was also selected to numerous All-Star teams.
She continued onto Babe Ruth, which she’s still a part of and then her time continued at Desmond Middle School before joining the Madera South junior varsity team as a freshman this year.
It wasn’t an easy path throughout her time playing baseball. Kajitani had to not only play against boys, but most of the time they were much older. Only two years ago, Kajitani was playing with 16-year-old boys, while she was only 13-years-old.
While daunting, Kajitani took in stride and used her situation to better herself as a player.
“The boys might’ve been faster and stronger, but I told her as long as your heart is in it, she would do great things and I would support her,” Martinez said. “I mean these boys were huge. A lot of them were driving themselves to the games. They had tattoos and beards and she got frustrated.”
At the end of one tournament, Kajitani was down after coming up empty at the plate. She intimated to her mother that the older boys were playing well, while she was struggling to find the same success at the plate.
Kajitani thought her efforts were all for nothing.
“That, as a parent, shatters you inside. I just told her if she keeps working as hard as you do, you will eventually be where they’re at. I wanted her to know no matter what, she can’t let me down because I’m always going to support her,” Martinez said.
Despite the minor setback, Kajitani pushed forward and started to become the player her and her family knew she could be.
“After that, she worked even harder. She trained weekly at the Baseball Academy in Fresno since November and she’s just improved,” Martinez said. Her batting and her fielding has improved. She’s just worked so hard.”
Kajitani hasn’t just been part of the team throughout her burgeoning baseball career, she’s been a key component. With a smooth swing and a soft glove at first base, to an effective left-hander on the mound, Kajitani is catching the eye of many in the baseball community, including Major League Baseball.
Earlier this year, Kajitani was selected to attend the MLB Grit Event in Dallas, Texas.
Over 60 high school-aged young women traveled to Texas for a weekend during Women’s History Month. Kajitani was one of those 60 athletes.
All participants got to play a game at Globe Life Park, home of the Texas Rangers, and were given tips from some of the nation’s top female baseball figures, including players and coaches from USA Baseball’s Women’s National Team and former MLB players served as coaches.
Players were given daily presentations about college recruiting and had a chance to talk about alternative careers in the sport by Kim Ng, senior vice president for baseball operations for Major Legue Baseball and is the highest-ranking woman in the sport, along with other female executives from the Rangers.
While Kajitani’s mother said it was beyond their expectations, getting a chance to practice her craft was a highlight of the weekend for the freshman.
“They helped me out at my primary position, first base, and they helped me with my mechanics for pitching,” Kajitani said. “They just helped me understand the game more.”
Kajitani’s mindset of trying to improve and better herself on the diamond sets her apart. Her mom calls her “one of the funniest people she knows”, but for junior varsity coach Matthew Borges, Kajitani’s drive to be the best baseball player she can be is a testament to her focus and respect for the game.
Borges had known Kajitani years before he got the chance to coach her but seeing her on the diamond for the first time, he knew she was a talented player.
“Just seeing her out there the first time, I knew she was one of the more advanced players on the team,” Borges said.
Kajitani’s progress every day as both a pitcher, hitter and fielder, offer a glimpse into a bright future for herself, but the Madera South baseball program.
“There really hasn’t been a lapse in her performances at all this season and she’s what we want to see in players who consistently improve over the season,” Borges said. “She’s going to be a big part of the program’s varsity level at some point.”
Kajitani’s skill as both a pitcher and first baseman have given the Stallions’ baseball team as a whole a cornerstone to build on. She will join the likes of freshmen Bryan Malagon, Anthony Gamiz and Triston “Murf” Gray in due time, but her ability as of now, is pleasing for Borgers, among others.
In her first game of the year, she threw a complete game shutout, only allowing two hits against Chowchilla. From there, Kajitani showed that it’s her skill on the field should be the only talking point.
“She feels really comfortable on the mound; she doesn’t let things get to her. She doesn’t show the emotion when things aren’t going her way and she always finds a way to get through it,” Borges said on Kajitani’s profile. “She’s also a heck of first baseman. Having that dynamic of being left handed, I’ve seen left-handed players do things right-handed players can’t. It’s just a different ability, especially at first base.”
Not only is she expected to become a varsity player for Madera South, she is expected to be a key cog of a youth revolution for the Stallions’ baseball team that hopes to win a section title in the coming years.
Although just a freshman, Kajitani has big goals for her baseball career in the near future. A spot on the USA Baseball’s Women’s National Team is something Kajitani is working towards and after playing with older girls for years who were prepping for the same goal, Kajitani has an understanding of what it takes to get there.
The tryouts are held every two years, and although Kajitani can’t make it this time around, in two years, she will have a chance to try out for the team. By that time, Kajitani will be a senior at Madera South and in the prime of her baseball career in terms of prep level.
With the drive and passion Kajitani has for the sport and with the support system behind her, there is no telling how high Kajitani can reach.